Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Water water everywhere


Image via Nikolas Schiller.
Metro migraines: Two Metro trains collided in a rail yard, mildly injuring three employees and damaging at least three $3 million cars beyond repair. Metro will pay $200,000 for accidentally discharging acid into a sewer in 2003. (Post) And Farragut North has some "major ceiling cracks." (Examiner)

The Mall Map: In 1897, Senator Cannon proposed creating a 230-acre scale map of the United States in the area that's now West Potomac Park and the Tidal Basin. (Nikolas Schiller, The Daily Render)

Two-driver car replaces driverless cars?: Two people drove a car into the Anacostia River, says the WUSA headline. It's still unclear how that happened (following a GPS, maybe?), but they're okay. After chuckling in amusement, note how the headline not only puts them in control of the car, but suggests that both of the people were "driving," in contrast to all the "car hits pedestrian" driverless headlines.

I was wondering that too: After January 1, grocery checkout clerks will have to add 5 cents for each bag you use, but how will that work with self checkout stations? Safeway and Giant say they're trying to figure that out. (City Paper)

Right hand, meet left hand's billboard: Shaw residents and DCRA officials have been trying to get rid of four billboards at 4th and P, NW of uncertain legal status. In the meantime, the Department of Health advertised HIV testing on one of them. (Examiner)

Driving on the left in Missouri: Springfield, Missouri is trying an innovative freeway interchange, the "diverging diamond," where traffic briefly switches to the left side of the road. At least it's innovative here; France has used it for decades. Amid the gushing over moving cars, it'd be nice if the story at least explored whether it's good for pedestrians and cyclists too; the interactive graphic notes that pedestrians will walk along the median but doesn't mention cyclists. (NPR)

Not Rhombus Heights: BeyondDC challenges us to name the 8 Metro stations with shapes in their names, or for a tougher one, all the metro areas over 1M people.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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it'd be nice if the story at least explored whether it's good for pedestrians too

should be

it'd be nice if the story at least explored whether it's good for pedestrians and cyclists too

by Peter Smith on Nov 30, 2009 9:04 am • linkreport

According to a Metro press release it seems 3 of the 4 1000 series cars in the accident were damaged beyond repair. These 1000 series had been placed in the middle, thus proving the additional cost of reconfiguring all the trains did not make the system any safer.

by Joshua Davis on Nov 30, 2009 9:06 am • linkreport

Peter: You're right. I've added that.

by David Alpert on Nov 30, 2009 9:08 am • linkreport

@Joshua, I don't think that proves the cars were less safe. The two 1000 series cars derailed, and probably sustained damage to their undercarriage. There weren't any passengers aboard so I don't think it's possible to determine whether placing the cars in the center would have resulted in more or less passenger injury.

It's also possible that just like it's easier to "total" a 1989 Toyota Tercel than a new car, Metro may have declared the 1000 series cars a total loss because it's not worth paying to repair them for only a couple years' service.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 30, 2009 9:10 am • linkreport

Here's the project website on the diverging diamond. Hard to say for bikes. For peds, the only issue I see is crossing one of the four outer ramps.

by Froggie on Nov 30, 2009 9:10 am • linkreport

As for figuring out the bag tax for self checkout it seems they could weigh the items, and then charge the tax based on the estimated weight someone puts into a shopping bag. While not perfect because you could have a really bulky item like a family size of chips taking up an entire bag, its a place to start. Maybe some of the other GGW readers have a better idea with this.

by Joshua Davis on Nov 30, 2009 9:10 am • linkreport

@Michael Perkins

I was not aware those were the cars that derailed. I wonder if/when the amount of habitable space left in the cars will be released. That would be a better indication of whether the new configuration is safer.

by Joshua Davis on Nov 30, 2009 9:13 am • linkreport

Speaking of HIV testing advertising, I saw an ad at Judiciary Square (north entrance) that said a hairdresser was getting her testing "to protect [her] customers".

It's been a long time since I took Health class in high school, but I was under the impression that you could not contract HIV from the kind of contact that happens between a typical hairdresser and her customers. What's going on?

by Michael Perkins on Nov 30, 2009 9:22 am • linkreport

They should just do the honor system for self check (seeing as it already is based largely on the honor system).

Doesn't it already sense when you've moved a bag off the scanner? Couldn't it count how many times that happens? Alternatively, it could just figure that every 10-15 dollars or so equals one bag, so suggest how many it thinks you have and let you modify it (i.e. honor system). It would have to allow some modification to accommodate canvass bags.

by Reid on Nov 30, 2009 9:25 am • linkreport

I got every one of the Metro stations with a shape in its name other than Mount Vernon Square. But that's a tricky one because "Mount Vernon Square" is just one of three names on the station. Plus, "square" is abbreviated.

Anyone have more luck on it?

by Tim on Nov 30, 2009 9:30 am • linkreport

Got all but one of the 1 million+ metro areas. Missed Tucson...

by Froggie on Nov 30, 2009 9:38 am • linkreport

@Michael Perkins

Haven't seen the print ad, but I think what they're saying is that the hairdresser wants people to get tested as a means of protecting themselves against HIV.

The whole focus on DC's campaign is to get people tested.

by Alex B. on Nov 30, 2009 9:57 am • linkreport

@Joshua & @Michael P -

Interesting to note, though, that the sandwiched 1000 cars derailed, and the other 3000/5000 cars (3223/3222, 5138/5139) - at the outside ends of the consists did not. Although this royally sucks, it was an interesting unintended experiment of how the sandwiched 1000 cars /might/ react in a collision.

by Matt Glazewski on Nov 30, 2009 9:59 am • linkreport

@Alex: I'm pretty sure the ad read: "Why are you getting tested?" "To protect my customers".

Anyone going to to the Judiciary Sq. Metro station?

It's laudable to encourage people to get tested. I understand that.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 30, 2009 10:16 am • linkreport

With the bags they should just not provide them at self checkout and make that clear. They usually have someone standing there monitoring the checkout stations and that person checks for alcohol and directs people to the next open station. For the first month or two they could also re-iterate that no bags are provided in self checkout, but if you would like one you can use the other lines.

by Rob on Nov 30, 2009 10:45 am • linkreport

I think Michael Perkins point make more sense then what I have read on this issue.

Fact is, these cars are worn out. Many have stress cracks in the car bodies at the lower corner of the door opening at the ends of the car.

by Sand Box John on Nov 30, 2009 11:09 am • linkreport

@Rob-- Your suggestion would make self checkout unavailable to people like me who do not ordinarily bring their own bags to the supermarket. I get it, that's immoral and I'm a bad person. But we've already passed this new tax to punish me. You don't also need to deny me access to self-checkout.

by Josh B on Nov 30, 2009 11:22 am • linkreport

Sell the bags. Pack of 5 for 25c. Simple, no?

by HM on Nov 30, 2009 11:30 am • linkreport

i think it's 5 cent per *plastic* bag, right?

if so, just make _only_ the regular paper bags available -- as already suggested.

you can also sell reusable cloth bags for 99 cent at the counter, too -- seen that a lot.

out here in cali, i basically forgot that plastic bags existed -- don't remember seeing them recently (i don't grocery shop much, tho, and usually use my messenger bag). Safeway (grocery store) is all paper. if you got something heavy that's not going in your messenger bag, it's like going back in time -- double-bag and walk slow. but it's awesome. plastic bags suck and basically mess up everything -- the Bay, birds, sewers/drains, etc. not sure why we put up with them for so long.

the last time i saw some plastic bags was the other day -- folks coming from Chinatown, probably, had those Chinatown-ish red platic bags that seem to be unique to that neighborhood. not sure how that works, but i'd guess it's b/c the City was just like, "man, we can't enforce this anywhere, so...". chain stores, of course, gotta follow the rules.

pretty sure Whole Foods (high end grocery store) offers 10-cent discount on your total for bringing your own bag, which i thought was a very good idea. it's like, "Be a good hippie, *and* save some money." i was surprised when my computer-geek co-workers (relatively high-income earners) were all diligent about bringing their bags to 'Whole Paycheck' for our daily lunch trips (you could easily drop $8-$10 on lunch). if i forgot mine, i felt a bit ashamed. :) which is how it's supposed to work.

paper up! plastic down!

by Peter Smith on Nov 30, 2009 11:54 am • linkreport

Hmm another Metro crash.

With Metro crashes making the paper every month, you wonder why more people don't want to take public transit?

by MPC on Nov 30, 2009 11:56 am • linkreport

@Peter Smith-- The tax applies to both paper and plastic bags.

by Josh B on Nov 30, 2009 11:59 am • linkreport

The tax applies to both paper and plastic bags.

in that case, the grocery stores should just eat the cost. but they shouldn't offer plastic as an option at all. that'll drive adoption of reusable bags, and keep the new expenses down. they can just raise the price of milk 5 cents. i'm guessing most of them have already figured this out, but maybe not...

by Peter Smith on Nov 30, 2009 12:12 pm • linkreport

Peter: They're not allowed to eat the cost. The point isn't to tax retailers to raise money, but to create an economic incentive for people not to consume bags unnecessarily.

by David Alpert on Nov 30, 2009 12:22 pm • linkreport

Ikea charges for plastic bags and at the College Park location, when you're done scanning, it asks you how many plastic bags you're using.

by College Park on Nov 30, 2009 12:25 pm • linkreport

@MPC, I know you're just trolling, but I'll bite.

People keep riding transit because for a lot of us, it's faster and more convenient than driving. It allows me to avoid the expense of owning a second car. It's safer than driving, you just don't get it in the news every time someone is injured or killed in auto accidents. For a lot of people, parking is pretty tricky to get or very expensive, especially downtown.

And Metrorail hasn't had crashes "monthly" it's been just over 5 months since the last one. However, they really need to figure out what the root problem is. Can't continue to injure workers and destroy railcars.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 30, 2009 12:31 pm • linkreport

Another point in my one-woman "men need to start carrying briefcases again" crusade. At first, I was wondering what the big deal is about bringing your own bag to the store. I have two reusable bags that roll up very small (each one isn't much bigger than a pack of playing cards). I keep them in my purse and when I need a bag, voila, I have one. (The brand is Envirosax if you're interested).

Then I realized that it appears that most men don't have any sort of purse equivalent, and thus no place to keep the reusable bags. A briefcase would solve this, and other, issues.

Seriously, guys, briefcases (or messenger bags, or whatever you want). If you work in even a medium level security building (x-ray machine and metal detector) EVERYONE in line behind you will thank you. Nothing drives me battier than being held up in line because the five men in line in front of me each have to get one of those bowls, empty each of their pockets (pants and jacket), inevitably forget something in one of the pockets and set off the metal detector, and have to go through again.....it's madness. After all that, I stroll up, plop my purse on the x-ray machine, glide through the detector and pick up my purse on the other side. It takes up to 10 seconds. I'm usually halfway down the hallway when the group of men are still restuffing their pockets.

by Catherine on Nov 30, 2009 12:51 pm • linkreport

They're not allowed to eat the cost. The point isn't to tax retailers to raise money, but to create an economic incentive for people not to consume bags unnecessarily.

yeah, i can see that.

guess i'm a bit surprised. DC will be leapfrogging SF in this one particular 'hippie' category, at least. Safeway decided early, apparently, not to oppose.

i just kind of think:
1) past couple/few days i've stood in a lot of long lines at grocery stores, and
2) grocery store clerks' jobs are already bad enough -- i don't want them to be even more of a pain in the neck -- trying to ring before you bag, or bag before you ring, and what if you can squeeze groceries in a bag to save the customer 5 cents, but then maybe you overcharged them, or maybe they need an extra bag, so you undercharged them, and where's your bag boy, and the line is growing more impatient, etc.

also, so this sounds like there is no plastic grocery bag *ban*, but just a tax/fee on each bag, right? sounds like that could have been the compromise position.

if so, that would be the not-so-great part of the bill. i know the paper eats up tons more energy, etc., but at least it's degradable, and i'm guessing the major push for the bag tax was ridding us of plastic in the Anacostia, etc.

now for the plastic bottles!

by Peter Smith on Nov 30, 2009 12:54 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins
It has been 5 months since the Ft. Totten crash. In that time there have been multiple collisions involving out of service trains, accidents killing track workers and other incidents resulting in injury or death.

The root problem is the complete lack of accountability. Just yesterday it was revealed that 30+ MetroAccess drivers fired for talking on the phone or texting while driving under the much publicized "zero-tolerance" policy had been rehired. As long as Metro employees (at all levels) are immune from the consequences of their actions safety will remain an afterthought.

by Jacob on Nov 30, 2009 12:57 pm • linkreport

Next poll can be about metro stations whose names are too long to fit in a Twitter update.

by Ward 1 Guy on Nov 30, 2009 1:32 pm • linkreport

Accountability doesn't always mean firing, and it doesn't always mean financial penalties.

Accountability could be as simple as reporting to the public what specifically went wrong, why it went wrong, and what WMATA is doing to prevent similar occurrences in the future, as well as what they're doing to look at their equipment and processes to figure out what else could go wrong.

For example, earlier this year we had that incident where a piece of track equipment derailed, then derailed again as it was being moved back away from the incident site. Metro has not communicated or reported what went wrong, even though the incident involved delays to many customers.

by Michael Perkins on Nov 30, 2009 1:50 pm • linkreport

It's good to see that the manual train control is preventing wrecks.

by Omari on Nov 30, 2009 4:30 pm • linkreport

On the odd interchange--that is interesting.

For bikers, maybe it's no worse if you just ride with the cars (which would take a lot of guts in an ordinary freeway interchange.) If you are riding on the sidewalk, it will be very nasty as drivers cut you off at the ramp.

For walkers, you have to cross four roads to get across the interchange. Two of these roads are ramps with sweeping curves, so people will drive through them very fast.

Overall it is probably no worse than an ordinary diamond interchange or SPUI that has those big sweeping ramps--you have to cross four roads in those situations too. But "probably no worse" is not saying much, as these interchanges are very rude to both bikers and walkers. If you eliminate the sweeping ramps (what do they call those? slip ramps?) then one only needs to cross two roads to cross the interchange and, if you keep the curb radius tight, then people actually have to slow down when they drive through it. But that of course is worse for the cars.

by Omari on Nov 30, 2009 4:49 pm • linkreport

Argh! Not another metro areas quiz. Typically I missed three: Tucson (which -- fair enough -- was a matter of not guessing within time which of a certain sort of size of city would just make it on), San Jose (which I'd mentally ticked off as being part of San Francisco), and Las Vegas (aka missing somewhere really obvious). I suppose once quizzes get to that length most people will have a Las Vegas moment.

by James D on Nov 30, 2009 8:31 pm • linkreport

Speaking of the bags they said they were going to be giving them out to low income people have they, I haven't heard anything about it?

Can we be assured that the poor will not get a hike on all cost due to this.

Why not do it for all bags (bags for fruits, nuts, screws) are exempt why; why not be fare and tax every kind of bag.

Can we be assured this money will go for the river and not diverted; if its going for the river than fine if it gets diverted in any way I want my money back.

Why not just force all business to use and sell only biodegradable bags.

by kk on Nov 30, 2009 8:57 pm • linkreport

@College Park--

The IKEA solution (essentially asking shoppers to report their bag usage on the honor system, with the potential caveat that a checker might challenge their bag count) could work, depending on the city's willingness to go along. What would happen when some customers inevitably underreport their bag use? Would retailers be allowed to make up the difference, or does that violate the rule against eating the bag tax?

by Josh B on Nov 30, 2009 9:42 pm • linkreport

Accountability doesn't always mean firing, and it doesn't always mean financial penalties but when it never means firing or financial penalties it creates a culture of disinterest where employees know that their pay and continued employment doesn't depend on their performance and therefore have no incentive to do quality work.

I'm all for increased transparency and better communications but I still think that the senior managers (starting with John Catoe) who created the current situation where safety is less of a concern than PR need to be replaced and it needs to be made clear to the line workers like serious safety violations (like texting while driving) will result in termination whether the union likes it or not.

by Jacob on Dec 1, 2009 11:42 am • linkreport

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